March 22, 2019KR OnlinePoetrySpecial Collections

Two Poems in Memory of Merwin

The Trowel

One day in the city there was someone on my porch
who had never been there before someone who had
written against war and for rain in the trees
someone who had asked the earth what it needed
to flourish after having been ripped raw
the market price for other ways of being.
Someone had greeted the loquat tree in my backyard
with quiet respect and admiration as I had greeted
him and the books that had become a terrarium
for me little locus of beauty to counter the decay
that seems so rank but makes soil capable of invention.
I could say he was compost to what I might hope to grow.
After dinner he saw the trowel resting on the crimson concrete
of my porch. That’s a good trowel he said. The best trowel
comes from—and exacting as he was—he named the catalog.

The Leaf

The old man was telling the names
of forgotten trees
and where they had come from
an atoll a desert a temple garden.
They had all come to live with him
in a refuge for the lost
some of them the sole remainder
of their genetic kin. It was as if he knew
their family stories the immigrants
and promised to help them take root
anew. One of the trees was a Bodhi
the seed gifted to him in his travels
with a claim that it was the very tree
under which the Buddha had attained
his light. The old man raised his eyebrows
as if he knew such promises were common
among our kind though rarely could be verified.
He put the dry leaf in my hands. It was frail as lace
the color of dusk and pocked with pinholes
as it had begun to decompose. I held the leaf
and carried it from that forest from that island
across the sea to make in my home a place
for bridging the old wisdoms with the day.

Alison Hawthorne Deming is the author of five books of poetry and four books of nonfiction, including Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit, published in 2014. She received a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship. Her latest poetry book Stairway to Heaven along with her collaboration with photographer Stephen Strom, Death Valley: Painted Light appeared in 2017.